It was freezing cold, rainy and barely 40 degrees on Saturday, Oct. 26, but these were not the only odds that seemed to be against the IU Southeast women’s tennis team as they took on Brescia in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Brian Sullivan, interim head women’s tennis coach, said that nerves, a bad elbow and the fear of losing a 14-year winning streak, may have put the team at a disadvantage but Sullivan said it pushed the team to winning their 15th straight conference in a row.
“I think that this game was a lot more pressure for me than it was for the players,” Sullivan said. “I was aware of the tradition they had going and I wouldn’t want something like these championship winning streaks to get broken on my watch.”
Sullivan said he was confident that the team would go far in the tournament, but was worried when it came to facing Brescia.
“I didn’t talk about it with the players, but Brescia scared the heck out of me,” Sullivan said. “I thought that they had a really good team. I was concerned not so much with the rest of the tournament; I knew we were clearly better than everybody else. Brescia was the only one that had me nervous.”
Ashley Bunch, nursing senior, said at one point during the conference the team was down 4-1 and had to win the final four single matches to win.
Whitney Batliner, freshman, Maddie Ikerd, sophomore, and Katie Morrison, junior, each defeated their Brescia opponents in their single matches.
Sullivan said that Katrine Clark, junior, pushed through pain in her elbow that was affecting her serve and won her first set of singles, but fell behind in the second. Driven to win, Sullivan said she pushed herself in the final three games of the set, winning the match at 6-3 and 6-4.
Sullivan said it was nice to see her rise above all of the things that seemed to be working against her and to help lead the team to another victory.
“I never doubted us,” Bunch said.
Bunch said that with the exception of Batliner, the team has all been together for a while.
Batliner said that once she arrived on the team she realized how driven they were.
“They already had a goal set to win this championship because they had won it in previous years,” Batliner said. “It made me work harder knowing what they had going for them.
Bunch said that this year has been her favorite year playing for IU Southeast.
“I feel like every single person on the team is one of my best friends. I’m really glad this was the way I got to
end my last year here,” Bunch said.
In addition to winning the conference, Bunch, Batliner, Clark and Morrison were all selected as all-conference players this season.
The team will move on to the National Athletics Intercollegiate Athletics finals in May, taking place in Mobile, Ala.
Bunch said she is pretty optimistic about the NAIA competition.
“I think this year we’re going to have a lot more preparation for it with the help of Coach Sullivan,” Bunch said. “I think if there is ever a year we could go down there and be good competition, it will be this year.”
Coach Sullivan said that he plans on giving the team a few moments of relaxation, but will soon move on to conditioning for nationals.
“It’s tough going down there. We’re usually one of the few teams that are coming down there from cold weather states, and we’re going up against teams that get to practice year round,” Sullivan said. “My hope is to just be able to go down there and be more competitive, but hopefully with a full off-season of development it will really give us an upper hand.”